The long and short of the census issue

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The census battle rages on

Emma Godmere
CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA (CUP) — Liberal MPs are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to reverse the Conservative government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

On Sept. 28, the Liberals put forth a motion to amend the Statistics Act to not only reinstate the mandatory long-form questionnaire “immediately,” but also “remove completely the provision of imprisonment,” the original penalty for Canadians who did not complete the mandatory survey.

This past summer, the government dropped the mandatory survey and replaced it with a voluntary long-form survey that will be distributed to a larger proportion of Canadian households. The Conservatives have cited concerns over privacy and the threat of jail time as reasons behind their decision.

While the motion passed in the House of Commons with 152 votes in favour and 141 against, it is non-binding.

A day after the vote, on Sept. 30, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett tabled a private member’s bill that seeks to not only to reinstate the mandatory long-form survey, but to embed it in the Statistics Act and remove the penalty of jail time for those who do not complete the mandatory portion of the census questionnaire. A fine of $500 would be the only penalty. Currently, the Act only outlines regulations for the short-form census.

“We will not stop until Stephen Harper reverses this decision, which is why this bill is so important,” Bennett said in a release on Sept. 30. “It keeps the pressure on the Conservative government to listen to more than 350 groups and experts who have condemned this decision and are shocked that this government has made this decision without any prior consultation or parliamentary process.”

Some concerns have been raised about the possibility of reversing the Conservatives’ decision in time for the 2011 census is mailed to Canadian homes.

According to Statistics Canada, production of census forms will begin shortly and some communities may receive their surveys as early as next February. Bennett’s office hopes the bill will reach second reading within the month, after which it will need to go through a committee and the Senate before the Act can be overhauled.

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